Witch hunt

Dear editor:
Over the past several weeks, the Fort Frances Times has published a few articles and an editorial that contain misleading information, untruthful distorted facts, or interviews derived from some councillors solely for political reasons.
I was never asked to comment or respond to comments or allegations being published, and it seems that the Times staff is either being directed not to call me or simply chooses to report only one side of the story.
I have sought and received advice regarding my reaction to some of the published lies and designed distortions of the truth, and at this point in time I have chosen to respond by way of this letter.
Here is the full story as it relates to mayor and council expenses.
First, let’s be up front. This whole witch hunt was specifically designed around the mayor’s credit card, not expenses of other councillors. They do not have Visa cards.
Now that we have that straight, certain members of administration and the Administration and Finance exec. committee began questioning my use of the credit card. Not about source documents, but about where and with whom certain expenses were incurred.
In the fall of 2004, I received phone calls from three councillors assuring me that they did not agree with members of the A&F exec. and such expenses were at my discretion—in the best interest of the community. I was never asked personally, nor did I receive a telephone call, from any of the three councillors I appointed to the A&F committee (Couns. Avis, Drysdale, and Hamilton) concerning the issue.
Shortly after this time, I began hearing rumours about alleged extravagant use of the mayor’s credit card and various other lies and exaggerations. Having heard this one too many times, on Nov. 12, 2004, I issued a letter to the A&F exec. committee to develop a credit card policy for the mayor and CAO, as well as an ethics policy for administration and elected officials.
Much to my surprise, at the following meeting of council, no policy was being recommended on either credit cards or ethics. I was, however, advised that at the first meeting in December, a new procurement policy that would cover credit card use would be recommended.
And at the Dec. 13, 2004 council meeting, a new procurement policy was adopted and, as a result, mayor and CAO credit cards were replaced with Visa purchase cards.
When I questioned members of the A&F exec. committee regarding the ethics policy, council was advised that they did not believe we needed an ethics policy.
Then out of the blue, the Fort Frances Times published an article suggesting there was a proposal by the Administration and Finance exec. committee to have a forensic audit done on the expenses of mayor and council.
In this Sept. 21, 2005 article, Coun. Hamilton attempted to justify this by saying it was “probably in response to a lot of questions we’ve been getting from the public regarding some expenses by the council—credit card use and so forth,” specifically referring to credit card use, which he well knows councillors do not have and only the mayor does.
Using the term “forensic audit” normally implies or suggests some criminal activity. Coun. Hamilton later denied using the term on several occasions.
In another effort to clear the air, council unanimously agreed to have an internal audit done; this was finally presented to council last week.
In Mr. Hicks’ reporting of the matter, he took the time to speak with certain councillors following the meeting, but, as usual, did not contact me for comment or response to any of the comments being made.
Remembering now that this witch hunt to discredit me started with rumours about improper and exorbitant use of an expense card. It now all comes down to source document receipts.
First, the town has a record of every single transaction that occurred. Not one penny was paid to me without appropriate receipts. Cash advances are available to anyone on council and staff who are attending conferences and seminars, and are appropriately recorded and deducted off of the final expense report.
Any suggestion of unsubstantiated claims is absolutely false.
When you try to impose a policy or requirements retroactively, it is obviously very difficult, but to make it very clear in this situation, administration has a record of every transaction, and any information required for income tax purposes or otherwise has been, or is, available if required.
The next matter I would like to address is the editorial of March 8, 2006 regarding the sidewalk in the west end which was headlined “Too slow to declare conflict.” This editorial was specifically designed to mislead the public with blatant lies and half-truths, displaying a lack of interest in researching the facts, and once again just relying on some councillors’ version for political reasons.
When the issue of the sidewalk was being discussed by council, I reviewed a possible conflict of interest with the clerk, who advised me that under the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act, there was no conflict, specifically because there is an exception under section 4 (E) as it relates to “local improvements.”
The clerk provided a copy of the relevant sections of the act.
In April, 2005, a bylaw was enacted by council which identified certain replacements or construction of sidewalks as local improvement projects. At this time, I raised the issue of my interest in the property with the chair, and the clerk advised that there was no conflict and quoted the exception as indicated above.
At this meeting, I voted in favour of the bylaw, which would have required the corporate owners of the property to share in the cost along with Hydro, Wal-Mart, and Witherspoon’s.
The issue of a sidewalk—or lack of one—along the two-lane highway was a very high-profile issue since the opening of the Wal-Mart in January, 2004. Previous council neglected to deal with the matter when Wal-Mart was seeking approval for a site plan (even though several downtown business owners wanted the town to negotiate with Wal-Mart certain conditions).
The editorial in the Times suggested I was hiding my interest in the property when, in fact, it was even discussed on a live talk show during the election in 2003. Had the Times done any investigation at all, or even called the clerk of the town, they would have been advised of the above facts.
The submission by Big Muddy was not opposed to the sidewalk but rather questioned the cost and recommended that they be shared by all property owners on both sides of the road. Only one owner opposed the sidewalk at the open public meeting: Glenn Witherspoon.
After the local improvement process had been concluded, one member of council recommended the process in this situation should be reconsidered as the local improvement bylaw was outdated and should be modified or scrapped, and with the exception of one councillor, it was agreed the sidewalk would not be financed through the local improvement bylaw.
Once again, it is hard to believe the publisher sought any balanced approach to reporting and its whole intent was to make me look bad in the eyes of the Times’ readers.
Mayor Daniel T. Onichuk
Fort Frances, Ont.